Despite being a 1970s period piece, Mindhunter feels eminently of the present moment. We’re living in the midst of a true-crime renaissance, and the David Fincher–helmed Netflix series stands out not only as a (heavily fictionalized) example of the genre, but as a critique of it. As FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) delve into the brains and motivations of serial killers — especially real-life murderer Ed Kemper (Emmy nominee Cameron Britton) — we’re given a window into why humans have such a fascination with individuals who engage in death and destruction. But just as interesting as the tales on the screen are the tales of what it takes to tell them, as an audience learned during a panel discussion with Groff, McCallany, Torv, and Britton at this year’s Vulture Festival. Over the course of the conversation, the actors talked about Fincher’s notorious obsessiveness, whether Ford is a sociopath, and how Britton learned to play Kemper partially thanks to his own time as a schoolteacher.
So first off, before the show started, for each of you, how big a true-crime fan were you, if at all? Why don’t we start with you Jonathan.
Jonathan Groff: Me personally, not at all. Not a serial-killer person.
I should hope, yes.
JG: That’s the weird thing, though, is that people keep coming up to us and saying “I am so obsessed with serial killers.” And people are obviously fascinated by the mind and the way the mind works, and what they do, and how someone could possibly do what they’ve done, and whatever, but that was not my jam. What drew me to the show initially was obviously the opportunity to work with David Fincher. And also, the scenes. The scenes with the four of us, and the scenes with the serial killers, they’re almost like play scenes. And so getting the opportunity to act that out and do such psychological work was what drew me to it.
Were any of you true-crime fans?
Holt McCallany: I was a big fan of some of David’s earlier films, like Seven. Which obviously, there’s a serial killer. Zodiac. So the opportunity to work with him, a great director like David in a genre that he is such a master of was very exciting also.
Cameron Britton: Well, I’ve always been fascinated with serial killers. I find it to be an incredible enigma, and [Edmund] Kemper is a great example. I’m very confused as to how you can have no remorse to take a human’s life, especially often a young girl and do it so intimately. So you have no remorse for human life, but you care about what we think of you. It’s so confusing to me that serial killers, many of them, they’re really keen on being liked or being justified through us giving them attention.
Anna Torv: But isn’t that because that’s the point, that’s the narcissist in you, is that you only care about what people think of you, or you only care if someone’s talking to you. So therefore, the empathy thing is connected to another person. And so anything to do with the world is absolutely not important. But as soon as you’re involved in it, then that’s what they feed on.
CB: That’s a good point. Mystery solved. I don’t need to do it anymore.
HM: Anna makes a great point. That’s one of the fundamental themes of the show, narcissism. And this is why you see so many of these serial killers communicating directly with the press. David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, the Zodiac Killer, Dennis Rader, the Bind, Torture Kill [killer]. These guys all wrote letters to the press and they wanted that adulation, they wanted that notoriety.
CB: They wanna feel special.
AT: Or they wanna take credit.
Tell me about the casting process? How did this go for each of you? Did you do sides? What scenes did you do? What made you wanna actually do the show? Why don’t we start over with Cameron.
CB: The first thing I read when I pulled up the sides is that little speech Ed gives when Holden says it’s hard to square you with what you’re in here for. You seem very nice. And Ed says something like, “I’ve been a regular guy most of my life. Nice home, nice suburbs, but at the same time, I was living a vile, deprived, entirely parallel other life filled debased violence, mayhem, fear, and death.” That was the first thing I read.
AT: He was like, “I want it.”
CB: I just need to know more. And there were something about the sides that were like …
HM: I’m perfect for this.
CB: Yeah. That’s me.
AT: Who is this guy?
CB: There was something about them, I just could tell it was a real person. So I looked up the name and then just went down a rabbit hole, it was all those YouTube … serial killers on YouTube, it’s a perfect example. It’s what the show feels like. It’s not terrifying to watch Mindhunter, necessarily, but it’s just unsettling. You can find Aileen Wuornos just talking to a camera. It’s hard to watch. Her eyeballs, they are just terrifying. I probably spent … I was up past midnight working on that self tape. I can do it better, I can get it, I can get the eyes right.
HM: And boy, did he nail it.
Anna, how about you? What was your audition process like?
AT: It was pretty smooth and simple, actually. I, again, got the pages. And often, you go in for an audition and you’re lucky if you get two pages. And it’s like, “Hey.” And it was a good 15. And then I knew what the show was, and so I read the book then, though, before I went to audition for it. And the character that I’m playing isn’t in the book, and I worked out who she was. But she’s a completely different person to the one that we’ve created in the show, to Wendy. And then I went in and tested with beautiful Laray, who casts the show.
HM: A round of applause for Laray Mayfield.
AT: Then I think I met with David and did them again. And then got the call. And I was beyond ecstatic, like beyond.
HM: I had worked with David a couple of times previously. I was in his first film, a film called Alien 3, and then I was in Fight Club. But they were smaller parts, I had never been in a lead. And so when I realized that Bill Tench was gonna be one of the really integral parts of the show, it was wonderful. Because in a certain way, it felt like I was getting a promotion.
JG: I had met Laray eight years ago when I auditioned and did not get The Social Network. And then I was in New York and I put myself on tape with the New York casting director Julie Schubert here. And for anyone that has an audition for Mindhunter, she gave me these tips before I was going, just general David Fincher tips. She said don’t move your forehead.
Don’t move your forehead?
JG: Don’t act with your forehead. Don’t blink, don’t up at the end like this, which I do all the time.
HM: Don’t segment the lines, no segmentation.
JG: Yes, and don’t be …
HM: Get to the end of the thought.
JG: Yeah, don’t be musical. And so I applied that.
HM: And be prepared to do a lot of takes.
JG: Be prepared to do a lot of takes, yeah. And so I applied that to the audition and then flew out to New York on a Monday on a day off and met with David. I had a feeling when I was sitting with him, this feeling of depression sometimes you get when something is really great. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this before when something really great is happening, something that you’ve dreamt about. And it’s almost like this feeling of sadness, because I felt like this is everything I’ve wanted and now I feel really depressed. Where this is too good to be true, I don’t believe this is happening. I’m in a room with David Fincher, he’s talking about this TV show.
HM: He’s probably gonna hire Justin Timberlake.
JG: Exactly. Exactly.
Tell me about your early interactions with David Fincher and Joe Penhall? What did they say they wanted the show to be and what did they want your performance to be?
CB: Well, David said something that I hoped he’d say, where he wasn’t looking for an impression. I mean, there’s hints of Ed there, there’s more his vibe I was going for and some of his voice. And he said he wasn’t looking for the genius Hannibal Lecter serial killer because it’s not all too accurate. The cinematic one, the sexy one. He couldn’t have got the sexy one out of me.
JG: That is so not true.
CB: Although, there have been some strange fans, I will … One person just wrote, a private message, “You’re a very hot bear.” What a takeaway. They’re watching this show Mindhunter and they’re like, “Yeah, this is …”
Anyway, the importance of this being a regular person, and honestly, the evil, the violent, the monster side of it wasn’t this pretty straightforward stuff. I agreed with him, my focus was more on making him a human being. I think that should be the takeaway from these people. My aunt doesn’t want her daughter to see it because she’s only 14. But at the same time, one of Kemper’s victims was 14. There’s something to be said … I don’t like to put that fear out there, but there’s something to be said about the assumptions we make on someone just because they’re nice, or well-spoken. Of course, we don’t do hitchhiking much anymore. You certainly don’t here anyway. So yeah, that was a lot of the talk, and then after that, there was an incredible amount of freedom that David gave me. He’d have notes on a thought, like this line, “I’d like it to be backed up with arrogance,” or something. But there were no overall notes. “I need Ed to be more this or that.” He just let me play, which it’s what’s so impressive about him. That he’s so in charge and yet you still feel so free.
AT: We were talking about that last night about the idea of when you say no broad strokes, no overall notes. That he’s got such an incredibly clean mind, that when he gives you a note, it’s so unbelievably specific. And then even the eyebrows and everything, all of that, that’s him going, “I don’t want a distraction until I want it.” I want the story and the people, I wanna be able to see that. And it changes the way, we would say, it’s changed the way I watch things.
HM: And that’s what watching David direct is really like. It’s like watching the director of a symphony orchestra. He’s literally making adjustments to every department simultaneously. Not just the actors, but the camera department is changing, the lights, it’s all moving all simultaneously. And he likes to move at a fast pace. And so you’ve got to commit to that, to that pace, and to that energy, and to that way of working. And be able to make very small adjustments because we’ll do many, many takes. And sometimes, he’ll give a piece of direction which is very precise. And he wants to see the same thing he did last time, except with this precise adjustment. So it does require a lot of concentration.
AT: And every frame, you can pause, you can just stop every frame and it’s just so beautiful. It’s a portrait every time.
HM: And that’s really one of the most exciting things about the project because there’s a lot of television out there right now, but there’s not a lot of television that’s being produced at this level with an extraordinary filmmaker like David at the helm. And just to give credit to all of our friends at Netflix, they’ve been very supportive of the project and of him. And giving him the kind of freedom to create his vision. And I think that’s part of what makes it so good, is it’s not the kind of television by committee that you often see at the networks. This is one filmmaker’s vision. And it’s a very different way of working. And of course, most television is writer-producer-driven. And this is television that is director-driven. And that is also fundamental difference that can’t be ignored.
Jonathan, I’m curious, what were the conversations that you had with David about Holden? What did he say he wanted it to be and where did you then take it from there?
JG: He said this thing also last night at dinner when he was talking to Anna and I about directing: “I’m in a plane looking down at you and you’re in a cornfield and I’m telling you where to walk.” So he likes us to lose ourselves in the moment of the scene, know the lines really well, don’t move your forehead, don’t blink, don’t go up at the end.
HM: No smiling.
AT: He didn’t say I’m telling you how to walk, he said, “And I’m gonna tell you if you’re getting too close to the rocks.”
JG: Right. Yeah. They direct you.
AT: We need to get back into this.
JG: Yeah, that’s wet over there. I see you moving in that direction, but that’s actually an unsafe area to be, why don’t you move over here? And we find the way together. Yeah, actually one of the things that he said to me in the beginning was “Holden has no charm and no self-awareness whatsoever …”
AT: That is so brilliant.
JG: “… And you as Jonathan are a very smiley … You’re an actor, so you’re always trying to desperately be charming. And you have that needy thing that we all have for people to love us. And Holden doesn’t have that, he’s nerdy.” And so he said this thing to me at the very beginning that is a very small technical thing but has completely changed the way I am even in certain ways. He said, “You smile. Even when you don’t think you’re smiling, you’re smiling.” And I was like, “What? Am I smiling right now?”
And so it took a long time, but he does this with all of us. He finds these little technical things. That’s why one of the reasons working with him is such a life-changing experience where we would be about to roll on the scene or we’d be about to start shooting the scene and be like, “Okay, and we’re rolling. And Jonathan stop smiling, and you’re still smiling, and you’re still smiling, and okay, action.” And then I would eventually get there. But when I watch the show back, I did not recognize myself. And I saw how, via him and the plane looking down at me in the cornfield, I saw how he calibrated so expertly every one of our performances. I mean, we give him everything we can give him on the day, and then he goes into the editing room and makes these subtle adjustments. And ultimately, it’s him who’s picking the coverage, and who we’re watching, and whatever. It was a master class being on set, and acting, and being pushed in the way that he pushes you, and doing the amazing material with these guys. And then it was a master class watching it and going, “Wow, that is how he put it together and that is the piece of art he created in the end.”
CB: I don’t know if it was intentional or what, I didn’t know I was doing it, but I recently watched, someone sent me something. You’re gotta see this, someone put together the editing of Mindhunter, this cool link. And it covered how they edited it and what story you’re telling by cutting to this person. And the person narrating said every time that Kemper mentions his mother, his mouth tightens. I had no idea I was doing that, I don’t know if David knew I was doing that or if …
AT: He would’ve seen it.
CB: It was something else.
Tell me about shooting the interview scenes with Ed. Was there some kind of guiding philosophy when you were going into those scenes, how you were gonna make them interesting, how you were gonna make sure they don’t get redundant? How were you approaching it?
CB: I don’t remember too much conversation outside of the cool structure … Usually before we were even dressed up, done our hair and makeup or anything, we’d come in in the morning and run the scene until Fincher felt it was where it needed to be. And then we get to process those notes while we go get hair and makeup done and they set up the cameras and everything. They were very private rehearsals, but I’m sorry, I don’t really remember …
HM: Well, the key to what Cameron just said is the word rehearsal. We do a lot of it, and we did a lot of it before we ever began filming. We would do private rehearsals with David in which we just go through the scripts. Every new episode. We sit around a long table, we go line by line through the script, talk about whether the line is necessary, how can it be improved, what does the scene mean in different terms of the overall journey of the character, what’s going on … And then, when we get on set, then we do an hour’s rehearsal just with David, and our DP, and the actors, until we all really feel … So this is something that’s a lot more rare than it should be in television. Normally, in TV, they just don’t give you any rehearsal. Not simply an insufficient amount of rehearsal, they don’t even put it into the schedule. Everything is about shoot time, and sadly, mostly directors aren’t really empowered on TV sets. They wanna shoot the call sheet, they wanna get the day, they don’t wanna go over schedule, they wanna get invited back. And so to have somebody who says, “No, we’re gonna take our time here. As long as we need until the scene is as good as it can possibly be, and then we’ll shoot it.
CB: And I doubt I will ever see a quicker turnaround between cut and action. It’s cut, and then there’s a little note thrown in from video village, and then rolling, and then action. You are in it all day. And especially in a scene where you’re just sitting in a chair. I remember the prop master trying to put my shackles on to start the scene over and Fincher would say, “Rolling” and he’d go, “Rolling. Fucking rolling?” And then dive out of the way of the shot. I’ve never done that in my life, I’ve never just woken up, had breakfast and then acted until I went to sleep.
HM: Right. And my character smokes in the show. Even the time to reset the cigarette. It has to be the same length as in the previous take because we move really, really fast. But that’s why we’re able to do so many takes and that’s why when he gets into the editing room he has so many choices. And then the other part of that is working on the interview scenes specifically, is that they’re very long scenes. Some of them are 10-, 12-page scenes or longer. And that’s so rare that that’s when it begins to feel like theater, when you’re doing these long scenes. And he’ll let them run all the way through. And then it’ll be another setup, a new angle, and maybe takes. So you get so comfortable in them, you do them so many times you start to make discoveries. And the thing just starts to improve, and gel, and come together until he finally gets what he wants.
Jonathan, how did you approach doing the interview scenes? You have to really be a key component of that over, and over, and over again throughout the series.
JG: It was different with every one. And I remember with the Ed Kemper scene, one of the things that I heard David say … Because the first interview with Ed Kemper happens almost halfway through the second episode. And in most TV shows, it would happen in halfway through the first episode. This is the show where they interview serial killers, but it was really important to them to slowly build the story. And you see how the term “serial killer,” the idea of talking to serial killers, the behavioral science unit at the FBI, it’s a huge thing that happens, a huge journey that happens throughout the course of the first season. And so when they were tracking that journey and Ed is the first person they talk to, I remember David, first of all, wanting to have that full, long setup where we meet [points to McCallany], the road school … And then we get to Ed Kemper and it’s like beginner’s luck. We meet a guy who’s a serial killer who’s dying to talk about everything he did, and his motivations, and his mother, and his backstory, and everything. So the Ed Kemper interview was all about the absolute perfect person at the absolute perfect time for the characters to go, “Whoa, this is actually really worthwhile.”
And then we give the transcript to her [points to Torv], and he [points to McCallany] gets convinced, and then it starts to build. And then from there, each interview is slightly different. So Jerry Brudos, he’s a total asshole and won’t talk to us. And so we have to figure out a way to get him to talk, and we end up going to him and talking to him in the third person. And that’s how we get him to open up. And then you’ve got Richard Speck, who’s surly and crazy. And so then suddenly I’m talking to him about words that I promised I wouldn’t say on this panel.
But I remember in the sides, because the ten scripts were written, basically. They changed a lot, but they were written before we started. So [then there’s] that fun element of the character of Holden [starting to mirror] the serial killers to get them to open up. And so then each interview starts to become about, “Okay, they’re not all Ed Kemper, so how do we get them to open up and when does Tench have more of an impact on opening up with Monte Rissell. Being tough on him is actually the thing that gets him to open up because he fights back. And then the scene with Gene Devier, who is the guy that kills the 14-year-old majorette girl in Georgia. With him, it’s putting the rock in front of him, which is based on John Douglas’s real story, the idea of putting the rock … So then every interview becomes about a totally different way of getting someone to open up, and the staging of the interview, and the way we act is different in every one because it’s a different psychology in each scene.
Cameron, I heard that you used to be a preschool teacher.
CB: Yeah, for eight years, I taught special-needs preschool for 18 months to 3-year-olds. It’s what I was gonna do with my career for a while, and then I got a little burnt out. I probably did it as long as anyone. I’ve seen a lot of teachers come and go and you do three or four years and it’s exhausting. I realized I was just supplementing entertaining kids for entertaining audiences, so I had to be honest with myself and get back into acting outside of just doing theater with my friends. I can tell you something very strange. Part of teaching preschool helped me with Ed, to be honest.
So you have 15 kids a day, and some days are blessings, and they’re just the joy of life because it’s a preschool, like you’d imagine. But there are days with children with autism where it just breaks down and their impulses can get really intense. And everyone’s looking to you as the teacher. You can’t break or you lose the room. So I started slowly learning how to train myself to just cut all emotions out and just get rid of them entirely so I could be this serene, pleasant … Some days were pretty wild, but everyone had to look to you. And that was interesting because it wasn’t like I was sad or anything, but after three hours of that, class would end. And I’d go into the bathroom or something and tears would just well, because you let your emotions come back. And now, they’re flooding out because they’ve been blocked. And that started becoming a mechanism, almost a physical thing to be able to cut your emotions out. So when it came to playing Ed, it was actually really helpful. I would never have thought that those two things would complement the other.
Have you heard from any parents of kids that have seen the show?
CB: Yeah. I’ll have friends who work there and they say new teachers go, “The guy who played Ed Kemper was a teacher here.” They do not believe it, they go, “I actually don’t believe you. I don’t see how that works.” The other parents, I tried not to be Facebook friends with parents, but a few of them, you get an attachment to. There’s one girl who I was still babysitting while we were working on Kemper. So that mom was an industry type, so she wasn’t creeped out or anything. But I do like to think about one day these kids will grow up and their parents go, “You see that guy? That was your babysitter. That was your preschool teacher.”
For all of you, do you find after having working on the show, do you find yourself profiling people? Do you break people down in a way now because you’ve had to think about that and get in that mindset so much?
JG: My thing was everyone said to me after they’d watch the show that they thought my character was a sociopath. And I had no idea. And people would say … and so many of my friends were texting me, “So when are you gonna start killing people?” I was like, “I thought I was playing an everyman.” I was playing a sociopath.
I think that the thing that they’re aligning when they think that Holden is a sociopath, that I think is very similar between … That we start to see more and more in our characters is this characteristic of narcissism and becoming self-obsessed. And it was one of the things about the serial killers sitting there and waxing philosophical about they’d done. And that need to have credit, and be in the press, and all of that. And that starts to find its way into us at the FBI. It’s my favorite character turns for the three of us, at the end of the season when it starts to get a little tense at the unit and you start to see the narcissists come out, particularly in my character, but it starts to come out in the three of us. “Who invented this, who’s taking credit for what?” And that idea of we were all in the room when “serial killer” was invented, but I’m gonna take credit for it. I was the one that did this, and I was the one that brought that. And I think it’s that quality of narcissism that we’re seeing in Holden that makes an appearance that he is a sociopath. Or maybe I’m just a sociopath and I have no idea.
That’s exactly what a sociopath would say.
AT: But that’s the bit that I think is interesting, we talk about that then start to look at the line that not everyone’s into Ed Kemper. You can still have the personality bias. And it effects you in your workplace, and so with that, the statistics are … There’s a book called The Sociopath Next Door, and it was written not that long ago, and I think it was something like 25 out of every 100 Americans are.
Wow, you really did a lot of reading up for the part. You’d be surprised, I interview a lot of actors, and sometimes they’ll walk into something and just go, “Yeah, I memorized my lines, I did it, whatever. I got out.” But it sounds like you really went the extra mile to try and …
HM: Well, it’s a fascinating subject.
It is. It’s hard to live with, though.
AT: This is really weird because I read that after the show, after I finished filming. When I did it, there was this disconnect we’ve talked about. I felt it was too much. I remember getting cast and then having a bit of panic, going, “What is this? Do I wanna look at this?” And then I looked up some of the real people, and it was truly … I get sweaty palms even thinking about, if I’m honest. And then I went, “I’m not gonna think about this when I’m not on set.” And set’s a different thing because you do it so much that there’s a desensitization that comes to it. And then when the show finished, I don’t know why, I got fascinated with the disorders in normal people. And I read The Sociopath Next Door. I read The Puzzling Mind of a Psychopath, which is really, really interesting.
HM: There’s always a lot of research to do also because it’s a period piece. So we’re set in the late 1970s, it’s a different political context. You also have the fact that criminal profiling was really in its infancy and trying to figure out exactly how these guys do what they do. And then each of the killers is very different and they’re each fascinating in different ways. And so you wanna research who they are, how they committed their crimes, what makes them different from previous killers that we’ve interviewed. And it never stops. Every new episode, we have new characters and we use the real killers. We use the real stories of the real killers, and the real crimes. So it’s a lot of research.
I’m curious, why do you think Tench sticks with Holden? Holden’s such a difficult person to work with. It’s just fascinating to watch their dynamic. Why do you think he sticks with him?
HM: When I first got offered the role, I remember getting an email from David in which he shared with me some of his thoughts about my character, and where he was in his life. He’s a guy that had a failing marriage, that had a lot of problems raising his adopted son who’s troubled. He was a guy who’s not really interested in the politics of the FBI and the brown nosing that you have to do in order to get promoted. He didn’t want to engage in any of that and so he had run away. He teaches road school, gives classes to local law enforcement about the latest FBI investigative techniques, plays golf. And then he gets assigned a new partner. And what he comes to understand is that this young man has really hit upon an innovation that could be very useful to law enforcement.
Even though a behavioral science was in its infancy in the period that we discussed in the show, it has now become the biggest part of what the bureau does. So that’s why, because I often thought of Bill as a guy who was floundering in a certain way because he had forgotten why it was important to him to be an FBI agent. And he was going through the motions, and then when Holden comes into his life, he rekindles my excitement for the work and reminds me why it was that I always wanted to do this job.
Jonathan, I’m curious, there was more sex in the show than I was expecting. And we see a lot of Holden’s love life. I’m not saying this to be prurient or anything, but I’m curious. How did you think about Holden’s approach to sex, and intimacy and relationships?
JG: It was one of the things I was most excited about exploring on the show because it was interesting to me that this guy who is kind of buttoned-up, conservative, Mormon-like, very inexperienced, maybe a virgin, maybe not. It’s hard to tell, he seems like a virgin even though he says he’s not and he has his coming of age talking to psychosexual sadists and killers. And the sexual component of their murders is such a huge part of it. And at the same time, or even before that, he meets this girl that kind of blows his mind sexually and in a way that he never knew about before or anticipated. And there’s even that scene where I go to the FBI, because it is the late ‘70s, and blow jobs and oral sex are on the deviant list of words that shouldn’t be allowed. And I go on and I’m like, “I think we should take some of these off the bad word list because this girl’s gonna blow my mind. It’s actually really great.”
While at the same time, talking to these men who do these horrible things to get off. Ultimately, for a lot of them, it’s about ejaculation and … putting your desire to get off over someone’s heart beating is such a chilling and horrifying thing. And so he’s having this sexual excitement while he’s talking to this girl. So that dynamic was really interesting to me and the development of that. There’s this scene with Debbie where she’s filing her nails in the bathroom and we come out, and she does this thing. And that dynamic of sexual play between a man and women was really interesting to me. And then at the same time, in the eighth episode, it’s Jerry Brudos and he masturbates into shoes. And she sees Holden eyeing up these shoes at this store and she thinks, “He really wants me to wear these shoes.” And so I’m thinking of Jerry Brudos, how we’re gonna get him to open up, and she’s thinking, “I’m gonna really blow his mind tonight when he gets home when I’m wearing these shoes.” And she surprises me by wearing these shoes. And it’s the first time, the character has been so good at compartmentalizing everything and whatever. And that is the first time, suddenly Jerry Brudos has been brought into his personal sex life.
And that’s the first moment it starts to wear on him. And so the sexual component of his relationship was happening at the same time of the sexual exploration of these killers. And I was really excited to explore those things. And I was happy with how it came out at the end of the show as part of the character arc.
I wanna turn it over to the audience for some Q&A.
Audience member 1: When is season two happening?
HM: I don’t think that season two will be on until sometime in 2019. We’re actually in the process of shooting it right now, but we’re still in episode one.
Audience member 2: What did you think of the cold opens with the mysterious man?
HM: Are you talking about the scenes with BTK? To be honest, I think that this was an idea that came to David later in the season when we were shooting. And he decided to add that. And the actor who plays Dennis Rader, Sonny Valicenti. He’s a really, really talented guy and has really captured the attention of the audience much in the way that our good friend Cameron Britton did. Rader is a really complex character, too, and a guy that eluded authorities for 30 years, and committed his first murder in ‘74 and wasn’t arrested until 2005. So it was the longest period that a guy was ever at large, and huge breaks in between when he would commit murders. So fascinating character. I think we may see more of him. I don’t know.
Audience member 3: Jonathon and Holt, I’m just wondering, your characters’ relationship is one of the weirdest things I’ve seen. And it’s like this twilight zone between buddy and enemy. And I’m just wondering how you get to that place?
HM: We’ve seen in a lot of movies, this older cop, younger cop dynamic. It’s an archetype in Hollywood, even in a move like Seven, which is one of David’s movies also dealing with this genre. You saw Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. In Dennis Hopper’s movie Colors, it’s Robert Duvall and Sean Penn; or in Training Day, it’s Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. But the trick in my opinion is to not to try to borrow anything from a previous incarnations of this dynamic and to find what’s real, and natural and organic in this relationship. And even though Jonathan and I are very different, we found that we had tremendous chemistry as actors. And he’s a superbly talented actor, so we played off each other in a wonderful way. And what we found was humor. And I thought that that was really something that was important to mine because it’s a nice juxtaposition with the scenes with the serial killers, which are so dark, and grizzly, and graphic, and in many ways unsettling, as Cameron said. So to find some humor in the relationship between the two agents I thought was a nice counterbalance to that. So we looked for those moments.
Audience member 4: My question is for Anna because one of the things I think is really interesting about the show … and we were talking about sexuality and stuff before. One of the things that I think is interesting that goes unspoken is that a gay person probably wouldn’t have gotten security clearance in the 1970s from the FBI.
AT: We’re set in ‘79 and it was only a couple of year before that it was taken off the mental illness list.
Audience member 4: So I’m interested in your take on what the fact that she’s keeping this secret, in a sense, about her sexuality. Even if it’s just a secret of ommission, and how that relates to her attachment to her work?
AT: I think completely and then also not all. At the same time because that’s just the way of life, that’s how it was. But I loved that it was not spoken and I loved that the only little mention of it you get is when she’s talking to her girlfriend. And she’s like, “What? You’ve told them?” And she said, “Of course I haven’t told. It’s not even a discussion.” But it’s that and there’s little moments of it which she reacts quite strongly to the Brudos stuff. And there was one little line that you don’t know that she’s a lesbian at that point, I don’t think. But there’s one little thing where they’re talking about cross-dressing and Holden’s gone in with the shoe.
And she’s like, “That is not an antecedent to criminal behavior. It has been happening in every culture, in every city since the dawn of time and it does not make it deviant. We need to absolutely have a distinction.” And I remember doing that and going, “I don’t know if people will remember,” because I certainly knew why I was saying it, but I think it’s not for another couple of episodes that you [make the connection].
Audience member 4: There’s a lot of [true] crime shows [right now]. I was wondering as a part of this genre if you guys had any musings as to why they’re so popular?
JG: The month that our show came out in October of last year, that horrible Vegas shooting happened.
HM: Stephen Paddock, right? Killed all those people in Las Vegas.
JG: And it was just such a horrifying and chilling thing to see how relevant it is, to try and explore the idea of why. And I don’t think they ever have figured out why, with him in particular, the motivation. What is that? Why did that person do that? But I think with our show, I can’t speak for the other crime shows, but certainly, that’s the question we’re asking in this. And can you have empathy for people that are so below our contempt, you shouldn’t have time for them because they’re deplorable human beings and what they’ve done is unforgivable. But the idea of asking the question of why and using empathy as a tool to perhaps, in some way, understand why, or in some way to prevent it from happening again I think is just a noble human idea. Something that we’re all striving for.
HM: When that incident happened, the one that Jonathan is referencing, I called John Douglas who wrote the book Mindhunter. And I said to him, “John, if you were on the ground in Las Vegas right now and investigating this case, what were the questions that you would be asking?” And he had some interesting things to say. He said first of all, why did he choose those people? What did that group of people represent to him? What were the things that were going on in his life that led him to this moment where he stopped fantasizing about this kind of an act and actually committed it. Usually there’s a trigger. There’s something specific that happened that set him off. What was that? It might’ve been a fight with his wife, maybe he got fired from work. But generally, there is a triggering event. So trying to find that series of things that takes a guy from being … Because he was a man in his 60s. So why does a guy all of a sudden at that age wake up and decide to commit mass murder? And I think that’s why audiences find it so fascinating. It’s because they wanna know, too. Those people are so different than us, how did they become the way they are.
JG: And I think the bleak message of the show is that we’ll never really know. And we can try to understand and try to prevent things from happening, but evil just exists.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.